on 11 April 2006
"Summer Snow" is Rebecca Pawel's third novel featuring Carlos Tejada Alonso y Léon, and each book is more intriguing than the previous. Set in post Civil War Spain, the author accurately paints a grim portrait of a country settling into the "normality" of an uneasy peace. Atrocities have devastated both sides of the conflict. The populace's "us" versus "them" attitude will continue for many years, and even in 1945, battle scars are still fresh, as are memories of dead loved ones, festering political wounds and fears of the Red Menace. Many areas of Spain are in ruins, and food shortages leave much of the population hungry - some are literally starving Although descriptions of the humiliation, defeat and isolation of those who did not support Franco's cause is made palpable throughout Ms. Pawel's intelligent narrative, with "Summer Snow" she gives the reader an idea of how the other half - the winning Falangists - live and think. Fascinating material, made more so by the author's intelligent, knowledgeable writing and original plot.
The Lieutenant, his wife, Elena, and their small son have been asked to visit Tejada's family in the beautiful southern city of Grenada, where they are wealthy landowners. Carlos' great aunt, Dona Rosalia Ordonez, died suddenly and Sr. Andres Tejada, our protagonist's father, believes she was murdered. The only copy of her will, in which she bequeaths considerable amounts of money and land holdings is missing. The eccentric old woman had always insisted that the Reds were out to murder her. She also feuded almost continuously with members of her immediate family and subsequently changed her will frequently to signify her anger and mood swings. Her final revision was made just a few days before her death.
Carlos is asked by his father to come home from Potes, in the northern mountains where he is stationed to investigate. Since Guardia policy is for officers to serve in regions far from their family homes, "so they will not be subjected to local pressures," the Tejada family must take vacation time for Carlos to solve what does turn out to be a nasty murder case...with many interesting suspects, including his own father, and as many varied motives. To spice up the story, Carlos and Elena both have problems with "the family."
The Tejada Alonso y Léon and Ordonez families are embarrassed by their youngest son's career choice - so plebeian - when he could have remained at home and led the life of a senorito...a spoiled, rich younger son. And then he married a Red! Needless to say, they are barely civil to Elena.
Carlos Tejada is one of the most well developed characters that I have met in recent popular fiction, as is his wife. They are both extremely bright, well educated, decent people, and polar opposites politically. He is the second son of a wealthy landowner, a conservative, and a staunch Nationalist. He backed Franco from the beginning. Now, as a lieutenant in the Guardia Civil, his political views have been moderated somewhat through maturity, experience, and the influence of his spouse - the former Elena Fernandez, Socialist daughter of a distinguished Classics professor at the University of Salamanca. Carlos studied law at this university before joining the Guardia during the war. The couple met in Madrid, where she worked as a schoolteacher, while Tejada was investigating a murder.
This rich historical novel is much more than a mystery, although the sleuth-work and suspense are riveting. The characters themselves are the story - and a most compelling one. I highly recommend "Summer Snow," and suggest reading "Death of A Nationalist" and the other books in the series first. The novels stand on their own, however, without any prequel. Outstanding!